Pres­i­dent, pa­triot, gen­tle­man

De­spite sit­ting with pre­de­ces­sors, Trump stands alone at funeral

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PHILIP RUCKER

From the mo­ment he crossed the transept of the soar­ing Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral, tore off his over­coat and took his seat in the front pew, Pres­i­dent Trump was an out­sider.

When the oth­ers sang an open­ing hymn, his mouth did not move. When the oth­ers read the Apos­tles’ Creed, he stood sto­ically. And when one eu­lo­gist af­ter an­other tes­ti­fied to Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s in­tegrity and char­ac­ter and hon­esty and brav­ery and com­pas­sion, Trump sat and lis­tened, of­ten with his lips pursed and his arms crossed over his chest.

Wed­nes­day’s state funeral was care­fully or­ches­trated to be about one man and his mile­stones — Bush the fa­ther, the friend, the war hero and

“So through our tears, let us know the bless­ings of know­ing and lov­ing you, a great and noble man, the best fa­ther a son or daugh­ter could have.”

For­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush

the life­long pub­lic ser­vant. But in­evitably it be­came about Trump, too, for it was im­pos­si­ble to pay tribute to the 41st pres­i­dent with­out draw­ing im­plicit con­trasts with the 45th.

“His life code was: ‘ Tell the truth. Don’t blame peo­ple. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. For­give. Stay the course,’ ” Bush bi­og­ra­pher Jon Meacham said in his eu­logy. “And that was, and is, the most Amer­i­can of creeds.”

The mourn­ers did not de­liver the sear­ing re­bukes of Trump the na­tion wit­nessed in Septem­ber for the funeral of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

But de­spite be­ing crafted to honor Bush’s legacy, their words also served to un­der­score the sin­gu­lar na­ture of Trump’s pres­i­dency.

Trump was in the com­pany of all his liv­ing pre­de­ces­sors for the first time Wed­nes­day, and the en­counter was plainly un­com­fort­able. By 10:49 a.m., when Trump and first lady Me­la­nia Trump stepped into the cathe­dral, a cool hush had come over the pews filled by Amer­i­can dig­ni­taries and for­eign lead­ers, past and present. Trump handed his black over­coat to a mil­i­tary aide and took his seat on the aisle next to his wife, with three past pres­i­dents and first ladies seated to her side.

First was the pres­i­dent Trump said was il­le­git­i­mate (Barack Obama); then the first lady he called a prof­li­gate spender of tax­payer dol­lars (Michelle Obama); then the pres­i­dent he called the worst abuser of women (Bill Clin­ton); then the first lady and sec­re­tary of state he said should be in jail (Hil­lary Clin­ton); and then the pres­i­dent he said was the sec­ond-worst be­hind Obama (Jimmy Carter) and his wife, Ros­alynn.

The Trumps and the Oba­mas greeted each other brusquely, but only Me­la­nia Trump reached over to shake hands with Bill Clin­ton. Hil­lary Clin­ton did not ac­knowl­edge the Trumps, keep­ing her gaze straight ahead as if de­ter­mined not to make eye con­tact with the man who con­tin­ues, two years af­ter the 2016 elec­tion, to in­spire “Lock her up!” chants at his ral­lies.

The frosti­ness of Trump’s in­ter­ac­tions with his pre­de­ces­sors was all the more ap­par­ent when for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush en­tered the cathe­dral a few min­utes later. Bush shook hands cheer­fully with each of the other pres­i­dents and first ladies. He slipped what ap­peared to be a candy to a smil­ing Michelle Obama — a re­minder of McCain’s funeral, when video of Bush giv­ing Obama can­dies went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia.

As a mil­i­tary honor guard car­ried Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s flag­draped cas­ket to rest in front of the al­tar, the Trumps joined the Oba­mas and Clin­tons in hold­ing their right hands over their hearts.

Trump’s Cab­i­net mem­bers and aides seemed to blend eas­ily into the au­di­ence. Vice Pres­i­dent Pence and his wife, Karen, wan­dered over to ex­change pleas­antries with the Clin­tons and Oba­mas.

White House coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way and pol­icy di­rec­tor Stephen Miller schmoozed their way through the cathe­dral’s nave.

Just be­hind the pres­i­dents and vice pres­i­dents, Ivanka Trump sat next to Chelsea Clin­ton, sup­press­ing from pub­lic view any hos­til­ity that might ex­ist be­tween them.

It was Pres­i­dent Trump who seemed most out of place. For about two hours, he sat in si­lence, the rare event at which the pres­i­dent was not the cen­ter of at­ten­tion but merely an ob­server.

Since learn­ing of Bush’s death late Fri­day, Trump has striven to be mag­nan­i­mous — to act, as he of­ten boasts he could, “pres­i­den­tial.” Trump opened the doors of Blair House to host the Bushes. He dis­patched Air Force One to carry the late pres­i­dent’s body and mem­bers of the Bush fam­ily to and from Hous­ton. All the while, he has re­frained from pub­licly re­act­ing to the nearly week-long cel­e­bra­tion of Bush’s life and its con­trasts with Trump’s.

The first of Bush’s five eu­lo­gists at Wed­nes­day’s funeral was Meacham, a Pulitzer Prizewin­ning jour­nal­ist who grew close to Bush as he re­searched the for­mer pres­i­dent’s life for the 2015 bi­og­ra­phy, “Destiny and Power.” Meacham ex­plained what Bush meant by his fa­mous vol­un­teerism phrase “a thou­sand points of light,” which Trump mocked this sum­mer as an in­ef­fec­tive and con­fus­ing slo­gan.

“Abra­ham Lincoln’s ‘ bet­ter an­gels of our na­ture’ and Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s ‘ thou­sand points of light’ are com­pan­ion verses in Amer­ica’s na­tional hymn, for Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the con­ve­nient, to hope rather than to fear, and to heed not our worst im­pulses but our best instincts,” Meacham said.

The next eu­lo­gist, for­mer Cana­dian prime min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney, praised three of Bush’s achieve­ments in of­fice — ne­go­ti­at­ing the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, the Amer­i­cans With Dis­abil­i­ties Act and the Clean Air Act.

“There’s a word for this. It’s called ‘ lead­er­ship,’ ” Mul­roney said. “Lead­er­ship. And let me tell you that when Ge­orge Bush was pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica, ev­ery sin­gle head of gov­ern­ment in the world knew that they were deal­ing with a gen­tle­man, a gen­uine leader — one who was dis­tin­guished, res­o­lute and brave.”

It was not lost on the au­di­ence that Trump has slammed NAFTA as one of the worst trade deals ever; mocked a jour­nal­ist’s phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity; and rolled back scores of en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions.

Trump sat through much of Mul­roney’s speech cross­ing his arms over his chest or hold­ing his hands be­tween his knees, at times lean­ing for­ward in his seat.

Trump’s body lan­guage loos­ened up when for­mer sen­a­tor Alan Simp­son de­liv­ered a lighter and more hu­mor­ous re­mem­brance of his long­time friend. Trump laughed as Simp­son told sto­ries about serv­ing in Wash­ing­ton with Bush; at one point, Simp­son sang the most fa­mous line from the play “Evita”: “Don’t cry for me, Ar­gentina!”

But Simp­son, too, con­veyed a more se­ri­ous les­son as he spoke of Bush’s hu­mil­ity and kind­ness. “Those who travel the high road of hu­mil­ity in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., are not both­ered by heavy traf­fic,” he said, adding later, “Ha­tred cor­rodes the con­tainer it’s car­ried in.”

As he as­sumed the pres­i­dency, Bush sum­moned all Amer­i­cans to cre­ate a “kinder” and “gen­tler” na­tion — a mes­sage that Trump, then a Man­hat­tan real es­tate de­vel­oper and tabloid celebrity, found lack­ing.

“I like Ge­orge Bush very much and sup­port him and al­ways will,” Trump said in a 1990 in­ter­view with Play­boy. “But I dis­agree with him when he talks of a kinder, gen­tler Amer­ica. I think if this coun­try gets any kinder or gen­tler, it’s lit­er­ally go­ing to cease to ex­ist.”

At Wed­nes­day’s funeral, the most emo­tional eu­logy was that of Bush’s el­dest son, Ge­orge W., who cel­e­brated his fa­ther’s char­ac­ter.

“He showed me what it means to be a pres­i­dent who serves with in­tegrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the ci­ti­zens of our coun­try,” Bush said.

Trump ap­plauded Bush’s speech, and then the Rev. Dr. Rus­sell Jones Levenson Jr., who had been Bush’s pas­tor at St. Mar­tin’s Epis­co­pal Church in Hous­ton, took to the pul­pit to de­liver a fi­nal, stir­ring eu­logy. His was as di­rect a ref­er­ence to the Trump era as any.

“Some have said this is an end of an era,” Levenson said. “But it doesn’t have to be. Per­haps this is an in­vi­ta­tion to fill the void that has been left be­hind.”

Af­ter the choir sang and bells rang, af­ter Bush’s cas­ket was car­ried down the cen­ter aisle and as it was loaded into a hearse, the Trumps de­parted the cathe­dral quickly through a side exit. The pres­i­dent was whisked back to the White House. He re­turned to the seclu­sion and com­fort of the Oval Of­fice.


Ge­orge W. Bush col­lects him­self as he eu­lo­gizes his fa­ther, fel­low for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, at Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral on Wed­nes­day.


For­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, ac­com­pa­nied by his wife, Laura Bush, fol­lows his fa­ther’s cas­ket out of Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral on Wed­nes­day.


From left in the front row: Pres­i­dent Trump, first lady Me­la­nia Trump, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Bill Clin­ton, Hil­lary Clin­ton, Jimmy Carter and Ros­alynn Carter at­tend the funeral of for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

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